THE MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO STAMFORD
Thanks to today’s winter event and my being a Cyclops, I missed it. I’ll be back in the Bunker next week. In the meantime, the Yankees have released a list of 20 non-roster invitees to Spring Training. The invitees break down into three categories: journeymen vets, up-and-coming prospects who are there just to bask in the Major League glow and guys who are around because you need a lot of extra bodies in Spring Training and won’t make the roster barring some kind of global catastrophe so bad that none of us will be paying any attention to baseball anyway.
Let’s start with the last category first:
GLOBAL CATASTROPHE BODIES
Kyle Anson, C: He only reached High-A last year, but he’s already 25. He only has two seasons in at catcher, having been drafted as a third baseman, but he hasn’t shown enough with the bat to be interesting. There are a lot of pitchers in Spring Training, and they all need a guy with a glove to help warm them up, so here’s Anson.
P.J. Pilittere, C: A three-time Yankees NRI, Pilittere just repeated Double-A and didn’t get any better. Of course, he was going on 27 at the time. He’s going to spend a long time in the Minors and never come closer to the Show than these Spring Training cameos, but it’s better than looking for a job in this economy, so more power to him.
Doug Bernier, INF: A 28-year-old who has spent his professional life in the Rockies organization, he has career .244/.357/.322 rates in the Minors, and when you hit like that, they don’t let you play even if you’re the new Ozzie Smith. That goes double if you’ve spent the last year at Colorado Springs and you didn’t hit there, either.
Justin Leone, INF: Leone, 32 in March, has been kicking around since 1999. He’s shown some decent pop in the Minors and has spent the last few years as a multi-position sub. He might actually hit kind of well for a 25th man, but defensively he doesn’t really fit anywhere. His primary position is third, but he can’t play there in the Majors, and his talents as a sub don’t include playing up the middle. With relievers eating every available roster spot these days, unless your bat is a proven commodity, you’re not going to make it as a corner reserve.
Todd Linden, OF. Former first-round pick Linden, 28 in June, has had 502 Major :eague at-bats over five seasons and has batted .231/.303/.335. He spent all of last season in the Minors. His problem is that he’s a corner outfielder who doesn’t have the offensive tools to carry left or right field, and not being able to play center is a huge impediment to a career as a Major League sub.
Kevin Cash, C: Because if Jose Molina gets hurt, the Yankees need to fill their hitless backstop quota. Career rates for 557 major league Pas: .184/.248/.285.
Angel Berroa, INF: Supposedly, the 2003 AL Rookie of the Year is competing for a bench spot. Your guess as to why is as good as mine. The Dodgers turned to him in desperation last year. The Yankees aren’t desperate, are they? Berroa drew 16 unintentional walks last year, and probably a solid dozen of them were attributable to the misguided NL idea that you should pitch around number-eight hitters like Berroa to get to the pitcher. Actually, you should go after both of them.
Shelley Duncan, 1B/OF: Until now, it wasn’t even clear that he was going to be back. I still like him to some degree, but the Yankees aren’t in the market for a platoon first baseman or corner outfielder. Maybe the restaurants are good in Scranton.
John Rodriguez, OF: Rodriguez, 31 in just a few days, can actually hit. The Cardinals gave him two years in the Majors as a reserve outfielder, and he did very well, batting .298/.378/.434. As a pinch-hitter, he’s batted .236/.353/.455, which isn’t actually that bad as pinch-hitters go. The Rays, who pinch-hit more than any team in the AL last year, would have won several more games if they had gotten even that much production from their pinch-hitters, who hit about .180 as a group. I’m sorry to keep repeating this, but Rodriguez doesn’t have a lot of defensive value, can’t play center field and thus has been unable to stick despite the decent bat. The Yankees signed him off the street back in 1996 and had him for years but never used him despite the fact that they’ve typically led the league in miserable bench players.
Kei Igawa, LHP: The perpetual trading showcase continues with no hope of ever ending.
Jason Johnson, RHP: He’s 35 and has been in and around the Majors for over 10 years. He has an amazing 56-100 career record, which he earned only partially because he’s largely been with Baltimore and Detroit. The rest is all about high ERAs and a strikeout-walk ratio that is a significant handicap. The Dodgers used him as an occasional swingman last year, and his presence, along with that of Berroa, suggests that the Yankees have embarked on a plan to embarrass Joe Torre by taking away all his fringe players.
Sergio Mitre, RHP: Coming off of TJ surgery, entering into a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance and has never shown much healthy, unplugged, however you want to categorize it.
That leaves the prospects. Of the bunch (OF Colin Curtis, OF Austin Jackson, RHP Mark Melancon, C Jesus Montero, INF Eduardo Nunez, INF Ramiro Pena, C Austin Romine, 2B Kevin Russo), you know the guys you have to pay attention to: for your long-term edification, Montero, one of the best hitters in the Minors, and Romine, who had a terrific second half last year and seems to have both the glove and a plus bat for the catcher’s position (he’s one of the reasons Montero will someday be a first baseman). The short-term view included Melancon, who will almost certainly pitch in the Majors at some point this season, and Jackson, who could be the starting center fielder any time from the All-Star break on. I’m going to get some cranky responses for not highlighting Russo here, but I’m not the believer a lot of my readers seem to be. This spring season will help show if I’m correct in my skepticism.